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Fumiko Enchi’s Role in Postwar Japanese Literature Annotated Bibliography

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Updated: Apr 12th, 2021

Overview

Fumiko Enchi was one of the foremost fictional writers in postwar Japan. Through her classical works, she sought to challenge dominant gender norms shaping womanhood in a patriarchal society. She questioned the idealization of a universal feminine figure that seemed detrimental to women. As Rodica (2016) argues, Enchi’s narrative works – The Masks and The Waiting Years – featured masked female protagonists in a commanding mother-type role, and thus, served to challenge paternalistic attitudes dominant in the postwar Japanese society. She considered the body an expression of the self to others, and therefore, idealized female figures devalue one’s identity.

Enchi attempts to deconstruct the idea of gender difference through her depictions of the ‘real woman’ based on her experiences (Rodica, 2016). She also challenged tabooed expression of womanliness by anatomizing the female consciousness and sensual body parts (Moro, 2015). Thus, Enchi utilized the female body to criticize idealized feminine figures that were detrimental to women and speak out against established taboos in contemporary Japan.

The iconic representation of Enchi emerges in the earlier scholarly work on her biography. I believe that earlier scholars writing in the 1980s shaped the images of this icon known today. Specifically, when analyzing gender elements in her works, authors often stress the loss of her womb and her unhappy marriage to create an image of a disenchanted feminist (Moro, 2015). Thus, Enchi’s representation draws on her experiences and suffering in a patriarchal Japanese society that emphasized paternalistic values to the disadvantage of women. In such biographical writings, she epitomizes female resistance against domination by men.

Her texts are portrayed as a means of empowering feminine subjectivity suppressed by traditional values and taboos. Moro (2015) notes that earlier scholars perused through Enchi’s works for elements considered subversive to the androcentric system, disregarding the intellectual and cultural contexts in which she worked. Therefore, biographical literature on Enchi shaped the lenses through which we see her as a feminist icon in modern Japanese society.

The historical setting in which Enchi wrote contributed to her prominent status as a feminist writer. In particular, the post-WWII period brought about radical changes that created modern Japanese society. The defeat of Japan paved the way for sweeping reforms that transformed Japan into a democratic nation. Feminist voices arose to challenge the cultural conditions of this period that favored a patriarchal system.

As Lam (2017) writes, Enchi’s writings sought to address the socio-cultural issues of her time and inquire into female consciousness. As a result, her narratives stand out as the most prominent literary works that questioned repressive gender stereotypes in this society. Her classical texts, including Himojii Tsukiji and Onnamen, contain historical references to the anguish of women in modern Japan (Rodica, 2016). The two novels articulate the new paternalist conditions that were unfavorable to womenfolk in the post-war Japanese period.

In representing Enchi, historians, writers, and culture producers had common aims. First, most historians explore biographical aspects that may have impacted her feminist ideologies. They give prominence to incidents such as her hysterectomy and unhappy marriage. Second, scholars seek to explore how her understanding of Japanese traditions surrounding femininity influenced her feminist writings. They emphasize the role of her father – an influential personality of “Kokugaku (National Studies) in the Meiji era” – in shaping Enchi’s knowledge of Japanese sex and gender roles and traditions that inspired her to write (Moro, 2015, p. 11).

Another possible aim of historians and authors writing about Fumiko is to depict her as the embodiment of female resistance against paternalistic values. Her works are portrayed as ‘female writings’ whose content is unpalatable to male readership; however, she does not seem to challenge the Japanese traditional values (Moro, 2015). Therefore, the scholars paint her as a radical feminist who used the female body in her writings to detest the prevailing cultural conditions.

Bibliographic Entries

Moro, Daniela. 2015. Writing Behind the Scenes Stage and Gender in Enchi Fumiko’s Works. Venezia: Edizioni Ca’ Foscari.

This book analyses Enchi Fumiko’s literary career in the era of modern Japanese theater. It documents gender aspects in her later essays that did not feature prominently in her earlier narratives. The author is a Japanese language and literature scholar, therefore, the book is a reliable resource for understanding Enchi’s interpretation of identity. It employs a thematic analysis method to research her texts for inter-textual references to identity. The analysis of works such as Onnagata Uchida gives useful details on how impossible it is to fix identity – both on stage and in real life. However, the book’s focus is limited to only performance versus performativity aspects in Enchi’s portrayal of the ‘real woman’ identity. Nevertheless, it was still a useful resource because it gave insights into gender dynamics and the contexts in which she worked. This book has helped me learn Enchi’s feminist background and deconstruction of issues of gender and age shaping female identity through her works.

Brownstein, C. Michael. 2014. “The “Devil” in the Heart: Enchi Fumiko’s Onnamen and the Uncanny.” Journal of Japanese Studies 40(1):29-55.

This article gives a biographical account of Enchi in the context of her radical challenge of gender norms in her novel, Ornament. The author gives a useful perspective on Enchi’s subtle criticism of Japan’s patriarchal system; his method involved examining male figures in the Onnamen that projected an image of ‘uncanniness’ on Mieko – a heroine in the story. The author is a distinguished don in Japanese culture and Meiji era history; thus, the article is reliable.

His central argument is that the supernatural portrayal of the female character, Mieko, in her novel only becomes clear to readers through the role of Ibuki – a male figure. Thus, the article gives important insights into the portrayal of women as custodians of shamanic powers. Its main limitation is that it examines Enchi’s life history based on a review of only one of her novels. The article helped me learn about the conditions that shaped Enchi Fumiko’s literary journey, shaman beliefs, and perspectives on modern shamanism in postwar Japan.

Rodica, Grigore. 2016. “Mask and Identity in Fumiko Enchi’s Fiction.” Saeculum 1:268-272.

This article discusses Enchi’s switch to prose writing style mid-1930s to explore the full extent of female consciousness. It preempts what influenced the playwright to write in prose through an in-depth analysis of two of her works, The Masks and The Waiting Years. Enchi’s desire to probe the subjectivity of her female protagonist was the motivation behind her new literary style. Further, it explains her use of masked manipulative women to speak out against male domination.

The author is an expert in 20th-century literature, which lends credence to this article as reliable material. It gives helpful social contexts and cultural forces in modern Japan that were unfavorable to women. Thus, it articulates the suppressive conditions that Enchi lived through in her adult life. Its main limitation is that it does not give her earlier literary or childhood history. Through reading this article, I have learned Enchi’s contextual motivations for her shift to prose writing in the mid-1930s and female characterizations.

Umemoto, Junko. 2010. “An Experiment in Gendered Reading: Enchi Fumiko’s “A Bond for Two Lifetimes—Gleanings.”” Comparative Literature Studies 47:369-378.

The article analyzes Japanese women’s writings, including those of Enchi. Based on the analysis of her earlier novels and autobiographical trilogy, the author reveals that the playwright did not oppose Japanese traditional values. Instead, she represented the female body as both mystical and sensual. His method included the analysis of writings by women presented at the Rutgers seminar.

The author is an expert in Japanese classical literature, so this article is reliable. He reiterates that Enchi’s obsession with female parts to emphasize female consciousness is evident in her writings. The limitation of this article is that it does not give details of her childhood or adult life. Nevertheless, it discusses useful aspects of Enchi’s biography, such as the father’s influence in her teenage years and love for Japanese classics. The article helped me learn more about Enchi as the daughter of a linguistics expert and her interest in classical tales of the Genji and Edo eras, which she reproduces in some of her works.

Lam, Y. Ka. 2017. “More Than a Historical Novel: Women, History, and Metafiction in Enchi Fumiko’s Namamiko Monogatari.” IAFOR Journal of Literature & Librarianship 6(1):27-39.

The article discusses the blurred distinction between fiction and historical facts in Enchi’s novel, A Tale of False Fortunes. The author is an expert in Heian classics and history, so the material is reliable. Using historical facts and personalities, the article explains how early feminists like Enchi challenged societal issues in post-WWII Japan through literature. The most helpful aspects of this material include information about Enchi’s six literature awards, paternal influences in childhood, and her use of classical characters in her works. It reveals that Enchi’s early interest in Japanese classics and the prevailing cultural conditions informed the plots and character choices in most of her novels.

The author uses a comparative analysis method to analyze discrepancies between Enchi’s novel and classical tales. The main limitation of this article is that it examines the historical characteristics of only one of her works. However, it includes useful information on historical figures (such as Takebe Ayatari), occurrences, and places in the novel, which helps to show Enchi’s deep knowledge of Japanese history. It helped me learn about her upbringing and adaptation of classical images and facts in her works.

Rimer, J. Thomas. 2014. The Columbia Anthology of Modern Japanese Drama. New York: Columbia University Press.

The anthology discusses translated plays by early Japanese women, including Enchi Fumiko. The author is an expert in Japanese literature and theater with impressive credentials in art and culture; therefore, the text is reliable material. It features an introductory section that gives in-depth details of the characters and images of onstage performances of the plays to help readers understand the context in which playwrights worked. A masterful description of Enchi’s Restless Night in Late Spring is provided. It explains useful elements of the Japanese modern history and identity that feature in the play.

The approach or method used by the author involves an analysis of translated Japanese plays in the context of modern history and culture. As such, each section includes an introductory part, well-researched details of the script, and illustrations of the play, which are useful to the readers’ understanding of Enchi’s prose and self-identity. Its main limitation is focusing only on onstage performances of plays and not on the life of the individual playwrights. The book has helped me learn about Enchi’s literary career and the contexts in which she produced plays and performances.

References

Brownstein, C. Michael. 2014. “The “Devil” in the Heart: Enchi Fumiko’s Onnamen and the Uncanny.” Journal of Japanese Studies 40(1):29-55.

Lam, Y. Ka. 2017. “More Than a Historical Novel: Women, History, and Metafiction in Enchi Fumiko’s Namamiko Monogatari.” IAFOR Journal of Literature & Librarianship 6(1):27-39.

Moro, Daniela. 2015. Writing Behind the Scenes Stage and Gender in Enchi Fumiko’s Works. Venezia: Edizioni Ca’ Foscari.

Rimer, J. Thomas. 2014. The Columbia Anthology of Modern Japanese Drama. New York, NY: Columbia University Press.

Rodica, Grigore. 2016. “Mask and Identity in Fumiko Enchi’s Fiction.” Saeculum 1:268-272.

Umemoto, Junko. 2010. “An Experiment in Gendered Reading: Enchi Fumiko’s “A Bond for Two Lifetimes—Gleanings”.” Comparative Literature Studies 47:369-378.

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IvyPanda. (2021, April 12). Fumiko Enchi's Role in Postwar Japanese Literature. Retrieved from https://ivypanda.com/essays/fumiko-enchis-role-in-postwar-japanese-literature/

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"Fumiko Enchi's Role in Postwar Japanese Literature." IvyPanda, 12 Apr. 2021, ivypanda.com/essays/fumiko-enchis-role-in-postwar-japanese-literature/.

1. IvyPanda. "Fumiko Enchi's Role in Postwar Japanese Literature." April 12, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/fumiko-enchis-role-in-postwar-japanese-literature/.


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IvyPanda. "Fumiko Enchi's Role in Postwar Japanese Literature." April 12, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/fumiko-enchis-role-in-postwar-japanese-literature/.

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IvyPanda. 2021. "Fumiko Enchi's Role in Postwar Japanese Literature." April 12, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/fumiko-enchis-role-in-postwar-japanese-literature/.

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IvyPanda. (2021) 'Fumiko Enchi's Role in Postwar Japanese Literature'. 12 April.

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